Four Reasons Brands Don’t Market to GenX (and One Big Reason Why They Should)

I wrote in an earlier post about an experience I had regarding a Fidelity commercial’s use of The Special’s “A Message to You Rudy”. Yes, I was caught off guard that ska was being used to sell retirement plans, but what was equally attention-getting was the fact that the spot was squarely aimed at a Generation X demographic. That doesn’t happen very often.

generation-xI’ve been in marketing for almost 20 years, and I understand the importance of target market selection. So why doesn’t GenX get the same marketing attention as Boomers or Millennials? Here are just a few reasons:

  • We’re small: Sandwiched between two of the largest generations, Boomers (74.9 million) and Millennials (75.4 million), GenX numbers look paltry indeed. There are two reasons for this. First, there was a drop in the number of births in the mid-60s, the beginning of Generation X. The other reason has to do with the fact that while no one can seem to agree on exactly when Generation X begins and ends, they do agree that Generation X lasts less than 20 years. Pew Research Center has the range from 1965-1980, Gallup says GenX runs from 1965-1979 and MetLife—going strictly by fertility patterns–has GenX at 1965-1976. Using the widely accepted Pew’s numbers, GenX has 40 million members. That’s practically a niche market as far as brands are concerned.
  • We’re poor: Allow me to clarify. In truth, Generation X is in their peak earning years, and produces 31% of total U.S. income while being just 25% of the population. However, we carry more debt than Boomers and Millennials, our retirement savings got creamed by the Great Recession, and we’re simultaneously saving for our kids’ educations and caring for aging parents. That doesn’t leave a lot of discretionary income, and marketers know it. Combine that with our small size and we’re not a very attractive target.
  • We’re old: A big reason Millennials are having a moment? They’re young. A marketing focus on youth culture is nothing new. When the term “teenager” was coined in the 1940s and the postwar prosperity of the 1950s put disposable income in the hands of this group, brands started messaging directly to young people. Youth marketing is important to brands because young people tend to have an influence on the buying decisions of friends and family. The middle aged marketing target is a narrow one to begin with, and GenX’s size makes that even tighter.
  • We’re savvy: Skeptical. Cynical. Distrustful. These labels might be an unfairly negative way to describe GenX, but there is a grain of truth in them. We value authenticity, and if we feel that you’re trying to put one over on us, we’re done. For brands that market effectively to Generation X, this is top of mind. Don’t try to fool us.

So on paper, we don’t look awesome. It’s easy to see why brand marketers would look at a list like this and take a hard pass at GenX as a target demographic. That would be a mistake, for a big reason:

  • We’re loyal: If, as a brand, you can offer something of value and tell an authentic story, you will find that Generation X is one of the most brand-loyal generations in history. That’s right. If you can manage to get us to like you, we will keep liking you. We’ll even pay more money for your stuff because we like you so much. GenX has a brand loyalty rate of 70%, according to a study by eMarketer.

For brands that are in it for the long haul, there’s another consideration to showing some love to GenX. We are the parents of Generation Z: a generation nearly as large as Millennials that holds $44 billion in buying power between their own money and influence on family spending. And they’re wired way more like their GenX parents than Millennials.

Ignore us at your peril.


  1. One of the bonuses of communicating with GenX (my own generation and the “2nd greatest” ;>) is that we are likely the easiest to market to using a multi-channel approach. We grew up with smailmail, radio, TV and print (and still use all in different, newer ways); we were the first desktop web, email and then smartphone mobile everything users (and still use and have comfort with all three); and we helped create social media and its evolution. You can reach us in integrated layers with impact if you do it right. And as you said, you’ll get a VERY loyal consumer who likes to share that positive buzz with many fellow Xers.

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